Catholic Exchange: Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Advent

This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season. It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths. Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S., the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009

The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.

We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism. The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature. The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Synod, Archbishop Chaput, and Despair

I just read Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod over at Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register and I believe it touched on a major issue in the Church right now. It is not just one in relation to marriage and the family, but also a lack of hope in the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Here is the text of the intervention:

Marriage as a Witness to Hope

“Brothers,

The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.

The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

There is a great amount of despair that is coming out of certain corners of the Church. For instance, the German Church demonstrates a profound sense of despair and loss of faith in its desire to conform to the world rather than the Blessed Trinity. Many in that Bishop’s Conference, not all, have forgotten that our baptismal call is to be conformed to Christ throughout our lives. That means entering into the Paschal Mystery and dying to self, dying to our desires, and inclinations, most especially those which are disordered and sinful. The reason for this is not because God is a cold-hearted authoritarian who desires to rule over us as a tyrant. No, what these men and many throughout the Church who have chosen this world rather than the next, is that God wants us to be fully human. He created us, so He knows what will make us fully alive and fully human. This occurs through an abandonment of sin, which is a difficult and life-long process only made possible through grace.

This despair leaves Jesus in the tomb. It is to scatter because Our Lord has been crucified. Many have forgotten that Jesus has in fact Risen, that He reigns in Heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is who guides the truth and the Church. We cannot give into despair because the culture is against us. The culture has always been against us. Jesus came to give the world a counter-cultural message, a message that goes against the depravity of sin, and the truth that relies on grace. He promised us that we would be persecuted. The question comes down to this: Are we a Resurrection people or not?

A good deal of the ranting and raving at the Synod and on social media comes from those who have lost hope. They see a Church of sinners, a hierarchy of sinners, and a seductive world. Many have cornered themselves into one of two camps: the Church is going to fall apart or we must become like the world. We forget that the answer is neither. It is that we must proclaim the Good News. We must share the joy of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. That with grace all things are possible. We can overcome our sinful inclinations, even sexual ones, by the power of God. It is not by our own power, but Christ’s that will guide us and help us to persevere in the long arduous journey.

Do we truly believe in the power of the Paschal Mystery? Do we believe that God has and will redeem us? Do we believe that Jesus is who he said he is? If the answer is no, then yes, it is right to despair. That means there is no redemption and that human depravity will continue to spiral to deeper and deeper depths. If the answer is yes, then we must stop living in defeat. The world senses our despair and the vultures are circling overhead. Either we believe that Christ will protect the Church from error, or we don’t believe in Him. Either we believe that redemption is possible or we don’t. Conforming the Church to the world is to live without redemption. It is to believe that human beings are incapable of greatness, holiness, and saintliness. If we are redeemed, then we must share that redemption with others. We must be honest about the difficult task. We must be honest that human beings cannot do it on their. This is only possible through Christ.

Many people focus on the sins of the hierarchy. They obsess about a “Gay Mafia” or other agendas within the Magisterium. There have been competing agendas since the beginning of the Church. Today is not unique. Most of us are not in a position to do anything about it except pray. Gossiping and ranting in social media is not a proper response to such concern. Gossip is a sin for a reason. If there are concerns then write to the proper channels, pray, and trust in Christ’s promises. The sins of the hierarchy, the very same sins many of us in the laity struggle with, do not change the Church in her ontological reality. She is the Bride of Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that our sins don’t damage the Mystical Body, but it does not change the Church, nor does it change God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written:“That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”
But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God’s truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.

Romans 3:3-8

It is time to stop focusing so much on this world and the sins of our neighbor. It is time for us to live as people in hope and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. It is through our lives and our striving to live in holiness that people will come to know the truth. It is impossible for us to engage the world if all we do is either project doom and gloom out over social media and in our daily lives, or if we say the Church is “out-dated” and must conform to this age. Neither are truth. Both are a form of despair. Instead, we must do as St. Paul did and proclaim: Christ has risen! Pax Christi.

Liturgical Living Made Simple: Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. My husband and I love the Rosary, but I must confess, we are still implementing a family Rosary at night with our 4 year old daughter. It’s a struggle for her to sit still for five minutes, let alone 20-25 minutes. We have gone through periods of praying it each day and periods where we haven’t. It is a definite goal for our family to pray the Rosary daily. It is a beautiful prayer and meditation on the life of Christ through Mary.  I am a huge proponent of the Rosary.

I kept our liturgical celebration simple. I decorated our table with a statue I have of Jesus and another of Our Lady. I don’t have any depictions of Our Lady of the Rosary at this point. I then pulled out a couple of our Rosaries and put them out along with flowers; blue in honor of Our Mother. I explained the feast to my 4 year old while we ate dinner. I made an Israeli Spiced Chicken. I got the idea from this recipe. I didn’t actually grill the chicken. I roasted organic boneless chicken thighs, but I used the marinade in the recipe. It was so delicious! I also made a pearl cous cous salad with tomatoes, bell pepper, and parsley with lemon and olive oil. I sprinkled goat cheese on top, which added a rich creaminess. I didn’t make a dessert. We are trying to eat healthier, so I save desserts for our really big feast days. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes from around the world to use for various feast days. Next week is the feast of St. John Paul II, so I will be searching for Polish recipes. When my husband gets home tonight we will pray the Rosary as a family. It is a quiet, beautiful, and simple celebration of the gift of the Rosary and Our Heavenly Mother.

I am new to liturgical living, so I like to keep it simple, but allow it to guide the rhythms of our family. There is no reason for us to make liturgical living complicated. We can live the calendar of the Church without feeling like we need to be able to provide a huge celebration for each day. Pick a few a month that are special for your family and decide how you want to celebrate that saint or feast day. I like making an ethnic meal, occasionally making a fun dessert, doing a craft if I can find one or have the time, and decorating our kitchen table with flowers and whatever items I have around. You can also print out pictures for each feast day. Find what works for you and your family. No matter what it is a tremendous blessing to live with the rhythms of the Church. Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! Mother Mary, ora pro nobis.

image image_1 photo

Catholic Exchange: St. John Paul II on the Power of the Rosary

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn.”

So begins St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which was promulgated on October 16, 2002, just a couple of years before his death. October is the month the Church devotes to the Holy Rosary and the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary falls on October 7th. It is a prayer and devotion that has changed the lives of many. It is to walk the life of Christ through the eyes of His Mother. Our eyes are ever fixed on Our Savior, but under the loving guidance of the Mother He gave us on the Cross. St. John Paul II referred to devotion to the Rosary as a “genuine training in holiness” that guided Christians in the contemplation of the great mysteries of our Faith.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: On the Conversion of St. Peter

Today is the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Two men who shaped the Early Church and whose contribution to the Faith can still be seen and felt 2000 years later. One was the first Pope and the other proclaimed the Good News to the Gentiles, after St. Peter helped move the Church from just the Jews, to the whole world. Due to the fact that both of these men loom so large in the Church, I have chosen to meditate on the conversion of Saint Peter. Saint Paul would require an entire article of his own, in fact both men have books upon books written about them.

St. Peter

In the Gospel of Matthew we see that Simon, who is now called Peter, was among the first disciples to be called to follow Jesus.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus did not go to the Temple in Jerusalem for his disciples at first. He did not seek out the learned and the powerful first. No, he went to the Sea of Galilee and summoned two fisherman to be his first disciples. When Peter abandoned his nets to follow Christ, he had no idea of the place he would play in the mission of bring the world to Christ. Notice, however, that Peter’s decision to follow Christ was immediate. He left his very livelihood and went down a path he did not fully understand at the time.

Peter’s conversion was a slow going process. He stayed with Jesus and followed Him as He proclaimed the Good News, but there are moments in Scripture where it is quite evident that Peter did not understand what he was a part of. The revelation of Jesus as the Son of God was a slow going process. The disciples did not understand immediately that He was the God-Man. In fact, it would take the Paschal Mystery for the Apostles to understand who Jesus truly was, so that explains why Peter understood slowly.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

I Am Not the Pope and Neither Are You

15360-1qo4qg6

The deeper I go into my theological studies, the more I am at peace with the Church. My peace does not come from the knowledge of men, but from the reality that the Holy Spirit is at the helm. It is easy to get dragged into outrage because of pockets of corruption and the sins of the people within the Church. The Pope said this, a Cardinal did that, a heterodox priest is now working in the Vatican. I think the truth is always somewhere in the middle and if people are truly interested in giving up their outrage, they will stop reading reports from the mainstream media on the Church. It is impossible for a secular world to understand the Church. They view us as a bureaucratic institution, rather than the Mystical Body of Christ that is animated by the Holy Spirit.

It seems in some of my dealings with people in social media, that Catholics are forgetting who we are and who we are not. It seems that many respond strongly to Pope Francis because they have forgotten the mission. I don’t agree with everything the Pope does, but I don’t feel the need to rant and rave about it. He is human and most of the time is not acting infallibly. I am not the Pope. I don’t know what goes on in his head most days. I am sure it is a daunting task to lead a Church of 1.2 billion Catholics as well as try to evangelize the other 5 billion people on the planet. He is probably learning as he goes just like all of the other Popes. He will make mistakes and while we are not obliged to agree with him, we are still required to treat him with the dignity and respect that is given the Vicar of Christ. We are also called to consider his non-infallible statements.

I think that many people would breathe easier if they studied more Church history. There have always been heretics, sinful, and corrupt people within the Church, even at high levels. There have been periods of great violence and Popes who were martyred or exiled for the faith. Pope Martin I comes to mind here. The world has always been upside down. I have no doubt that there are heretics and heterodox clergy in the Vatican. It’s always been so, whether Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, Nestorian, Gnostic, etc. When we focus on this fact and allow it to overwhelm our faith then we are acting as the secular world does. We forget who is in charge of the Church, who guides the Church, and who is perfecting the Church. We also forget that even in the face of great corruption, the Church’s doctrine has been preserved. In a thorough and honest reading of Church history the only explanation that she has not been destroyed is that the Holy Spirit is keeping her on course. The Church never should have made it out of the catacombs, let alone throughout the world.

We need to accept that we are not the Pope and most of us lack the holiness, insight, experience, or understanding to lead the Church. Sure it would help if things were more articulate at times, but we can’t get bogged down by distortions and mistakes. We need to live the mission. The mission is to bring the Good News to the world. That is what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the center: Jesus Christ. I am a student theologian. I love theology and most specifically the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I understand him, as much as anyone can understand his brilliance. That being said, I get what Pope Francis is doing. He is bringing us back to the core so that we can convert souls on the issues of our day. I look to him for guidance in holiness rather than great works of theology or philosophy. Although, I have read both Lumen Fidei and the Joy of the Gospel and they are insightful works in which we could learn a lot. His mission is different from his predecessors. People are not typically converted by a great argument against abortion or “gay marriage”. They are converted by a real encounter with the Risen Lord. That is where we begin. The rest will fall into place.

So what will bring us peace of mind within the Church? I don’t mean apathy or willful ignorance. I mean peace. The kind of peace that only comes from trusting the Most Holy Trinity. First, accept that we are not the Pope. Second, accept that fallen men and women are within the Church. Third, read more Church history. Fourth, pray for the Church and her leaders. Fifth, stop reading mainstream media reporting on the Church. Sixth, pray for humility. Seventh, continue on the path to holiness, Eighth, trust in the Holy Spirit. TRUST, and Ninth, most importantly, live the mission. Let’s bring Christ to the world. Our bickering hinders the mission.

While we are not required to accept every statement by the Pope, we do need to stop flying off the handle at every word he utters. Our own panic only enlivens the secular world. Yes, the world is in a bad place right now, but it’s always in a bad place. Our age has the same level of evil as previous ages, we just have more powerful weapons. Here’s a thought: Listen to Pope Francis and watch his actions. What is he trying to teach us prideful people? Pope Francis is not leading as a theologian or philosopher like our last two popes. He is leading from the simplicity of the very Early Church. It is Christ Risen that is the great mystery and hope of the Church. When we come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, when we love Him, He gives us the grace to overcome sin. He helps us with our battles and with the lies of the culture. We need Him first before we can combat the evil of our age. We have to stop putting the cart before the horse. In the end, that is what Pope Francis is teaching us. If we are angry or frustrated by that fact, then the issue is not our Pope, it is us.
**I am stunned, humbled, and amazed at the response this piece has generated. Thank you for reading. I have written a follow up, which can be found here.

Confessions of a Post-Ideologue: Why I am Now Anti-Ideology

Gods-Politics

I grew up in a firmly Republican household. We were also a family of debaters. My parents were debate partners in college and despite the fact that most debate partners loathe each other, they got married. They then had two of their three daughters enjoy and excel at competitive debate, myself being one of them. I also coached high school debate for a while when I was in undergrad. The art of argumentation and conservative politics was normative growing up; however, I joined the Navy at 18 and became politically apathetic. Most active duty folks know that it is the Republicans who give them a bigger paycheck, so that is how most of us voted, not all. Political activism is pretty much forbidden while on active duty and it wasn’t an issue when I was serving, like it is now. We worked long hours and fought wars. That was our focus.

I did absorb some military ideology that took me years to shake out and discard. Much to my shame, I supported the use of torture. Since I had personally witnessed the aftermaths of terrorism I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use whatever means necessary to save lives. In all honesty it was tinged with a bit of vengeance for the family members I had served in 9-11’s wake. I worked in a field that demanded total allegiance and in my youth and naivete, I gave over willingly. While my particular job was not unethical, I had friends who worked in questionable missions. It didn’t matter. It was for God and country, right?

I did my 6 years in the Navy and got out when my first contract ended. I was burned out and sick of the politics. Plus, the whole point of my military service was to go to college, so that is what I did. While in undergrad I discovered my love of politics and current affairs once again. A good friend of mine volunteered and worked in various capacities for Montana Republican candidates. I got involved. I started to remember that abortion is the supreme human rights issue of my generation and I believed the lie that Republicans would follow through on their promises. I finished undergrad and was given a prestigious internship at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This was a dream internship that would launch my career in politics. I was the National Defense Intern because of my job in the Navy. I understood the military, budgets, and the need for a strong national defense. I was willing to do what had to be done. That was in 2009.

While I was in my internship, something began to change. I remember when the scales fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with the Policy Analyst I interned for, Mackenzie Eaglen, high ranking Marines from the Pentagon, and a couple of Congressional Aides. We were discussing linguistics and the need for linguists on the ground. I knew this topic well. I had been a military linguist. We were carrying on an interesting discussion when the Congressional Aide began asking questions solely from the view point of statistics. I could see very quickly, he was also a Veteran, that people on the ground were merely numbers to him and whoever he worked for. He had no concern for their welfare. He had lost sight of his own service. It did not matter if people died. I left sick to my stomach.

Things went downhill from there. As I sat in Senate and House hearings I could see that nobody actually cared about people. It was all an abstraction, while I still remembered the faces of my friends who had been blown apart in Iraq. The friends I had wheeled around or walked with who had endured IEDs and gunshot wounds. I remembered my Marine friends at National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed, who had given everything only to be shoved in a broken down barracks with apathetic doctors. And now I was sitting in Congressional buildings looking at the same apathy. An apathy that had trickled down into the ranks. I couldn’t do it. People I loved, family and friends of mine, were still on active duty.

I knew that I was pigeon-holed into defense policy by virtue of my intelligence background. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to shift into religion or education policy. I realized very quick that I wasn’t cut out for politics. I don’t have the patience or stomach for it. I was also starting to question the talking points that I had ingested so willingly.

I can say that my Heritage internship was a great blessing and amazing experience. I was a bit old for it at 27, but I made the most of every opportunity and did find a niche for myself in attending the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University; the only vestige of orthodox Catholicism on that campus these days. I also came back to the Catholic Church during that internship after experiencing the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus. Thankfully the Basilica is right off the red line on the Metro, so I could easily attend Mass there on Sundays. Much to my own surprise, I left politics for good when I left DC after that internship.

In the last few years an even greater shift has taken place in me. Yes, I got married and began living my faith seriously, but I also became distanced enough from my military service and my time in politics to begin analyzing what I had accepted. I started to shift to a Catholic perspective and realized that much of what I believed was because of my anger following my 9-11 relief work experience. I had wanted justice and retribution for the people I had served, but it really was vengeance I wanted. I had accepted the vast expanses of government in the wake of 9-11 and now realize that who I worked for has taken those policies to frightening extremes. I also now see that the greatest threat to my family is the attack on religious liberty in this country.

In changing my opinion and heart on these matters, I began to dislike ideology. I started seeing how divisive it is within the Church at a time when we must come together to face the growing threat of persecution in this country and the very real persecution going on overseas. This has been reinforced by my graduate studies. Our faith is not contingent upon our political leanings or preferences. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he established 2000 years ago. What I believe comes from Him, not me. What the Church teaches comes from Christ, not me. In the end the only choice I have is to follow Him or follow myself. When we choose ideology over the faith, we choose ourselves. We choose division. I know. I used to put my politics above my faith.

I still agree with many things that The Heritage Foundation works on. They are doing great work on religious freedom, education policy, and traditional marriage. Many of these shifts occurred after my internship. I just don’t agree with the rugged individualism that they espouse. I am also firmly opposed to socialism in all forms. What this means is that I hold a thoroughly Catholic belief on economic and social issues. I have an obligation to help the poor. I must fight for the end of abortion that has taken 1 billion lives on this planet. If I want to see change then I must raise my family and serve my community. The lowest level is the best solution and pure capitalism uses people just like socialism. I am also proud of my military service and the friends of mine who still serve. All four of us who served in my family got out before doing 20 years. We all got out for the same reason: We hated the politics within the ranks.

Politics are important for bringing about change, but politics are inherently flawed and fallen by nature of the people involved. Politics can never supersede theology. I say this time and time again and many days feel like I am whistling into the wind. Our theology is supreme. We must usher in change and the Gospels through our faith first. Our beliefs, political and otherwise, must be shaped and formed by our Catholic faith FIRST. That means saying no to torture, unjust wars, pure capitalism, rugged individualism, expansive government, socialism, redefinition of marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. You will notice that these issues cross party lines precisely because whatever political party we are a member of is doing one or more things immorally. Yes, abortion is the supreme issue of our day and we must vote accordingly, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that our political party is the one of the Catholic Church. Quite frankly, the GOP will drop social conservatives on marriage and then we really will not have anyone to vote for in the coming years. That is the issue that will lead to our open persecution, in fact, persecution of Christians is already happening in this country because of our views on marriage. Both parties are corrupt and we must choose the lesser of two evils, if there is one. More than anything, though, we must start living devoutly Catholic lives in our communities.

The reality is that persecution is here, as Christ promised. People will hate us, call us bigots, and push us out of public life because of our views on marriage.Read the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus constantly warns that we will be hated, reviled, and treated as the enemy. It is already happening. We need to be focused on holiness, not ideology. Our ideology isn’t going to help us wait out this storm. Our ideology is more likely to force us to abandon our Catholic faith. That is why I am anti-ideology. It lessens our Catholic faith. It takes away from the Gospel and it weakens our position. I went from anything goes Veteran (I am not anti-Veteran), to hardcore Republican, to Roman Catholic. The latter is the only thing that matters now. To change the world we must grow in holiness. We must give ourselves completely to Christ and His Church. Then we know that we are on the right path.

The Shock and Awe of Becoming a Contributor for Catholic Exchange

Catholic-Writers-Retreat-image-2

I learned a few lessons yesterday as I began my contributor relationship with Catholic Exchange. The story of how I ended up writing periodically for them is one that I can only look back at in wonder. A few weeks before I was asked by the editor to become a contributor, I had emailed a good friend of mine and told him that my writing goal for this year was to get a piece published on Catholic Exchange. I had seen on their editorial page that they take submissions, as do a whole host of other Catholic websites, some of which I am waiting to complete my Master’s before I write more scholarly submissions. My friend thought it was a great idea and wished me success. I had set the thought aside as I began to prepare for final essays and exams for the January semester. Then something completely unexpected happened.

I read Catholic Exchange articles throughout my week because their focus is on deepening the Catholic faith of their readers and inviting others to investigate the greatness that is Christ and His Church. I happened to see an article that stopped me in my tracks in that the title was a theological error. For some reason I felt compelled to write a theological response on my own blog and share it on their Facebook page and in the comments section.  I didn’t expect a response and had written it so that readers could see a theological argument in response and study the subject more. I will not re-hash my post here, as it was quickly corrected by the author and editor. What happened next greatly humbled and amazed me. The editor contacted me to tell me a correction had been made and asked if I wanted to become a contributor for the website. I was stunned and over-joyed. This was a site I read regularly that I felt truly represented the Catholic mission to the world in its refusal to fall strictly into polemics. They are striving to help us grow in holiness. After a few years in polemics, I had found their website and had seen what type of writer I truly wanted to be.

I was exhausted from the battles that Catholics wage with one another constantly over every minute detail. I see that parts of social media are tearing the Mystical Body down rather than lifting it up. I contemplated this last night after having survived my first day as a contributor for a major Catholic site that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I was stunned by the level of support and sharing my piece generated, as well as the other amazing authors at Catholic Exchange. I saw that thousands of people were reading and sharing the articles from yesterday. It made me wonder, do sites focused on polemics generate this kind of buzz? I looked over a few of the major Catholic political sites and saw very quickly that they are not nearly as popular. While this was an anecdotal and small pool of research, I could see that people are thirsting for the authentic Catholic Christian message. Yes, polemics are interesting. I still sit back and watch the arguments on my friends’ social media pages, but arguments don’t quench that thirst. Messages of hope, reflections on Scripture, the lives of the saints, and deepening of theological understanding feeds the soul in social media and in real life. The world is noisy and places like Catholic Exchange invite their readers into the silence of God. That is precisely why they are so popular. They are feeding Christ’s sheep.

My experience of joining them as a contributor was one of deep humility and shock. I struggle with pride, intellectual pride, and God completely stunned me with this direction in my writing. I quickly discovered that this is one of His tools for teaching me humility. I was nervous when my post was published. I was worried that I had made unintentional errors, and I actually did. They were quickly fixed. As a natural debater, I learned that I don’t have to respond to every comment posted. In fact, I really didn’t want to engage in debate since that is not the goal of my writing these days. I merely want to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with others and let God do the work. So while I responded to a few comments on my article yesterday, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need to and that is how I will keep things in the future unless any major questions arise. I want people to offer fraternal correction when necessary and I will happily contact the editor to make sure my mistakes are fixed, but I want my writing to help with silence and peace, not turn into fights over minutiae. So this natural born debater learned to trust and let things go. If the editor has approved my piece, then it is fine. Both of us are orthodox and never intend to lead people astray.

To write for a large website is to offer yourself up to the readership. It is to trust that God is using the talent he has given me to serve Him, not myself. I write because I want people to deepen their love of the Blessed Trinity. I am also human and I have to fight pride daily. There is a real danger of pride in being a writer. We can lose sight of the mission, but I see now that God is using this to teach me humility. I don’t like every writer that I read, so it is impossible for everyone to like my writing all of the time. People will tell me such and that is a great reminder to be humble and serve God, not myself. It is also deeply humbling to see so many people using this website to grow in their Catholic faith.

As a writer and a student, I tend to walk forward in fear and trembling. This is what we all should be doing, but I am amazed at what God has done with me in the past few months, especially as I go further into my Master’s program. I am learning so much and it makes me want to share it with others. I am growing in wonder and amazement as I delve deeper into the truths of Christ and His Church. I will even be teaching high school theology online this coming fall for Kolbe Academy Home School.

Yes, my primary vocation is wife and mother. That is the greatest gift, but I am thankful that he is using me precisely in my vocation. I can teach and write from home. He is fulfilling that deep intellectual yearning that He gave me, but also keeping me firmly planted at home with my daughter and husband. What a tremendous gift! The last few years have been hard. I suffered three miscarriages, post-partum depression, and a long period of refinement in the furnace of suffering, as one of my Confessors called it. The grief was painful and I was constantly reminded of Christ on the Cross. Through all of that suffering Christ has conformed me more closely to Himself that I may serve Him in charity, truth, and humility. So here I am in awe of what He is doing in my life. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed Easter season.

The Need for Conversion: Catholic Sexual Ethics

20140213-100532.jpg

I have decided to add another post into my current series on Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and “gay marriage”. In a perfect world, all of us would fully assent to Church teaching before we professed to be Catholic. We would still sin, but all of us would, at least intellectually, assent to infallible teaching in love obedience, and humility. We would not put ourselves in grave danger by ignoring Church teaching and blatantly doing the opposite. For many of us, that just is not the case. It may be because we have never fully understood that, as Catholics, we are required to submit to Christ and His Church, including the hard teaching. A lot of priests and catechists have led people astray on this point over the last 50 years. Somehow our own conscience has begun to supersede the Church, in a nod to Descartes and the rampant relativism of our day. This is false, but is prevalent within the Church. I have done it in the past myself.

First of all we need to ask ourselves if we have really encountered Christ. Are we actually converted to Him. Are we ourselves evangelized? Is Christ the center of my life? Do I love Him more than anything? This takes a lifetime to do. Do I want His will over my own? Do I believe that the Church is headed by Christ, not men? Do I understand and believe that the Church’s teachings are in fact Christ’s? Do I believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, not a symbol? That is our starting point. Can I honestly say that I love and want to follow Jesus Christ? Then the rest comes into play.

I think that many people are ignorant of the Church and her teaching. They go to Mass on Sunday and think that is enough. They rely on their grade school level catechesis and think that is the end. There has not been as much emphasis on adult education until recent years. And even when these programs are available, the same 20 people show up. Many people do not think, or even realize, that study of the Gospels, Church documents, lives of the saints, etc. is a lifetime endeavor. I think many parents, in a striking similarity to the dominance of public education in this country for the past 150 years, think that religious educators, like myself, are responsible for teaching their children the Faith. This is also false. Parents are the first teachers of the Faith. I just help out.

Many families do not even pray outside of Sunday Mass. I have been astounded over the years as a catechist at the lack of prayer in family homes. I guess it should not surprise me, because it was not prevalent in my own home growing up. Once again, I think that families do not realize that being a Catholic is an all encompassing way of living. It makes us “not of this world, but the next”. We are planted here on earth, but Heavenly pursuits are our aim. It takes a lifetime to let go. Prayer begets prayer. The more we pray daily, the more we desire that prayer and union with God. Prayer leads to conversion.

Church teaching on sexual ethics in the face of an over-sexualized culture such as ours is hard to swallow. Mainly because people do not take the time to understand, or even teach (including way too many priests), the beauty that is God’s plan for the human person, which encompasses Theology of the Body. Most of us are told don’t do XY and Z, but never told why. As someone who abandoned Church teaching and lived with a boyfriend in her mid-Twenties, I can tell you that the WHY matters. So does orthodoxy. If you tell me you ignore Church teaching on one issue, then why should I not ignore others? This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned about. From the outside looking in, if you blatantly ignore it, then why shouldn’t I, is a terrible way to evangelize. This is how I felt back then. I am examining my own example in the past here. If I don’t fully live the Church’s call and her teaching, then I cannot evangelize. People want examples not words.

Conversion takes time. It takes prayer and it takes the Sacraments, especially Confession. I know. Constance, are you bringing up Confession again? I cannot tell you how important Confession truly is for the soul and for our path to holiness. Think about it this way. Blessed John Paul II who is about to be canonized went to Confession at least once a week. Many of the saints went daily. They are saints and feel the need for that frequent of Confession. I am not nearly a saint, so how often should I be going?! OFTEN! The Church’s requirement of once a year, except for mortal sin (it must be Confessed right away), is a minimum. I personally cannot go more than two weeks without needing Confession, and I am not even dabbling in the mortal sin arena these days. Not everyone is like that. Some people need monthly or bi-monthly. Figure out what is best for you, but go more than once a year. Take your kids to Confession!

Conversion may take serious prayer and many discussions with a priest. For me it was an “ah-ha” moment at a Theology of the Body seminar and a realization of my own incoherence at claiming to be Catholic, but ignoring Church teaching. Once I understood, I was all in. I still struggle at times. I have had three miscarriages, so it can be hard for me to want to get pregnant again. Using NFP is not easy, but it is the only option in line with God’s plan, until things stabilize for me. As hard as it is, I want to learn to live in line with God’s will, not my own. So I embrace it through the difficulties and fears.

We also live in a culture that thinks that marriage is about “me” and that is why no fault divorce and “gay marriage” are two sides of the same coin. If marriage is about “me” and not children and God’s plan for man and woman, then anything goes. Why limit it to just two people? What about inanimate objects? A woman married a bridge last year. Or why not marry myself, which is becoming popular? We live in a society that puts “me” and my desires at the center of all things. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. I am not the center of all things, Christ is at the center. My husband and daughter are more important than I am. Sure I have to take care of myself, but my wants and desires are not primary. This is a major struggle for me in my sinful nature.

That same over sexualized culture makes things like pornography and promiscuity normal. Books like 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, or certain romance novels convince women that they are not committing the sin of pornography when they actually are. Women are not as visual as men, so books are the preferred pornography. Reading about S&M could not be anything, but pornography. Anymore, rated “R” movies tow the line of pornography with graphic sex scenes and many wives see no harm in their husband’s Playboy subscription or occasional dabbling on the Internet. Pornography violates God’s desire for us because it makes human beings into objects of our own lust. Regardless of how we intend to watch or read something, sexual responses are a part of being human. Even if a character is fictitious it is meant to invoke lust in us. I will get more into this when I write about Theology of the Body at a later date.

Here is the crux of it, being Catholic is hard. Following Christ is the hardest thing we will ever do. No one said it would be easy, least of all Christ. Many of us in this country feel safe and secure, as if no one would ever attack us for our Faith. First, this is ignorance of American history and the Catholic Church and second, it ignores Scripture. We are promised persecution by Christ Himself. Being Catholic is “weird”. I personally love that weirdness, but it can be hard for others to swallow. Look at it this way, I am even weird in Catholic circles these days.

Here are some examples: We do not watch shows like Modern Family or anything that is meant to support the “gay marriage” agenda. Not because I do not like gay people, I love them and have had gay friends, but because I know the intent is to indoctrinate me. We do not watch rated “R” comedies anymore because they are sexually vulgar and mock our understanding of the human person. I do not read popular fiction, especially those which I know are pornographic. I know that Disney has jumped on the “gay marriage” band-wagon. I pray at Planned Parenthood. I boycott companies that support abortion and “gay marriage”. Church functions and requirements supersede all secular engagements in my week. My child will not play sports on Sundays. I read Catholic items before secular. I see the world as a Catholic. The Faith is the center, the very life blood, of my life. It makes me weird. I am okay with that. It is one of the many reasons I am a Lay Dominican. That is how Dominicans live. I am not a saint, but that is my goal, God willing. It should be every Christian’s goal.

Pray for conversion daily. We all need God to ‘help us in our unbelief’ in one way or another. Read up on what the Church teaches. Study the Faith. Pray about the Faith. Being Catholic is to delve into the deepest of oceans and then go even further on to Eternity. It would take so many lifetimes to take in the richness of the Faith. Talk to an orthodox priest. Let Him tell you the truth and help you reach that point of conversion. Find a good spiritual director who knows and loves the fullness of the Faith. Put Christ first in your life. Radical things will begin to happen.